Posted by: atowhee | February 20, 2017



gcki-in-treeegcki-tree2This kinglet was in the willows at South Side Park overlooking the melliferous sewer ponds.  Well, melliferous to us birders anyway.gcki-tree3gcki-tree4

LAST WEEKcac-with-ringCacklers at Yamhill Sewer Ponds last week.  One on left proudly showing off his white neck ring.cacsls-fmlLesser Scaup: female above, male below.  Eyes only Ruddy Ducks at Yamhill.rudu-twoJOE DANCER PARK:

Pair of Kestrel, female above, male below.2kestrlFlicker flight:flikflitMale hummer, sitting on same twig in same tree facing same direction, two days in a row:hum-treeamro-upritRed-breasted Sapsucker.  blue-eyesWhat is this bird? The camera angle makes the bird look like its got falcon wings.  But then you see those white puffs beneath the base of the tail?  Those feathers are to keep the feet warm in winter and are often visible on large accipiters, Goshawk and this Cooper’s Hawk.  This is the one who sent 200 starlings into aerial panic at Joe Dancer Park.coha

I suspect that many of my local juncos are molting now. They don’t seem to be able to keep the white stripes on their tails covered up. Much of the year those white stripes only flash when they’re in flight.white-tail

Posted by: atowhee | February 19, 2017


As the current regime pushes its anti-science agenda there is growing pressure on NASA to stop looking at climate change. Look to the stars.

I would presume eventually the current management in DC will begin firing those who continue to think and write about climate change.  Will they also cut all federal funding to universities that do climate research?  De-fund the National Science Foundation?  Right now it may be safer in some corners of our capital to praise Putin than to want to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Right now the climate change web pages on both the NASA and National Park Service websites still exist. And they are in English, not Russian.

Posted by: atowhee | February 19, 2017


Feb. 19-2017, Sunday

This morning Nora and I got in a walk under sunny skies, wind from the west.  It rained all night and the wind is bringing in the next rain storm.  At 13th and Michelbook the oaks had a trio of Robins, White-breasted Nuthatch, Anna’s Hummingbird and Acorn Woodpecker.  In one garden below the trees there were Juncos and a vocal Spotted Towhee.  One of the male Juncos sang, first time I’ve heard Junco song this year.  Yesterday there was a singing Flicker at Joe Dancer and one male actually gave the bubbling hiccup call that you only hear in courtship situations. Two male Robins were sparring.  Also at Dancer a male Anna’s Hummer was in the same spot on the same limb in the same tree for a second straight day.  That is apparently going to be his stronghold as he awaits the return of migrant females.

Yesterday at Dancer all the starlings lifted up from the grass and whirled around in a confused and confusing flock.  Then I saw coming at me, only fifty feet above the ground, the cause: a Cooper’s Hawk heading to the trees along the river.

For the first time today a Myrtle Warbler came into our garden.  This is NOT War-war who is a brightly colored male Audubon’s.   This warbler is very pale and its only visible yellow was the rump patch while War-war flashes his yellow crown, has a bold golden throat and yellow side-lines below each wing. We have two Varied Thrush, one male and one female but they never appear together.


Many species of wildlife have adapted to accommodations and habitats that are artificial.  I’ve seen mammals and birds in the midst of people and their machines around the world. When I was a kid Barn Swallows nested just overhead in the barn where I milked the cows. A small sloth lives in a tiny clump of trees at the edge of the bay in Panama City.  Lesser Kestrels hawk insects as they swarm around the rooftops on summer nights in Trujillo, Spain.  A gang of agouti shuffle through the leaves in a hotel garden in Coca, Ecuador. In that same garden a huge macaw came to our breakfast table, flew on board and proceeded to take all the butter in one greasy gulp. In England Jackdaws prefer human monuments for nesting—from Stonehenge to Tudor castles.  Brewer’s Blackbirds clean abandoned plates outside the student union cafeteria on the Stanford University campus. At dawn a fox hunts the alleys between Blackfriars train station and St. Paul’s in London. One fox stole my boots from behind our house in New Cross Gate, London.  Christmastime will find Black Redstarts catching insects on the spires of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. The same species patrols the ruins of the Roman Forum. White Storks and Red Kites plunder the city dump on the eastern edge of Rabat, Morocco.  Nearby those storks nest on the ruins of the old Roman capital, Volubilis.  Three species of swifts nest under the old Roman Bridge in Merida, Spain. Rose-ringed parakeets scream overhead near Amsterdam’s Vondelpark.  In Frankfurt Egyptian Geese now graze on park lawns. A Dalmatian Pelican took up residence at one town’s fishing dock on the island of Lesvos.  In daytime foot-long fruit bats hang from the ceiling of our hotel near Lake Victoria in Uganda. In Ashland, Oregon, Dippers regularly nest under the bridge in the center of town. An Asian Cuckoo lives in a tiny courtyard of a high-rise hotel in central Tokyo. Pukeko wade through roadside pools in New Zealand, impervious to speeding traffic. Yellow Wagtails run up and down the park paths in Rome’s Aventino.  Yellow Warblers patrol the docks and sidewalks of towns in the Galapagos.  Common Kestrels nest in the stonework around the gigantic rose window on Notre Dame’s river side. House Sparrows have the timing down so they come and go through the doors of the Deux Magots café in Paris’ Saint Germain quarter.  Hand-raised green sea turtles will swim up and touch you as you swim offshore of Hawaii Island’s west side resorts. California sea lions prefer fishing docks at Pier 39 to hard rocks in San Francisco Bay. Peregrines all over the world love high-rises and tall bridge towers for nesting.  In San Francisco Killdeer nest on flat roofs while Western Gulls patrol playgrounds for discarded goodies.

In tropical lands small primates are often the most successful interlopers in the world of man.  But in San Francisco I believe it to be the corvids: raven, crow, two jay species. They are smart, social, communicative omnivores.  Sound familiar?

By 1900 the corvid family was on most Americans’ kill list.  They supposedly ruined crops and killed lots of baby birds.  So they were summarily executed.  There was no “corvid lives matter” movement until they almost disappeared.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that jays, crows and ravens actually began to survive and reproduce in San Francisco.  Now they thrive and are not shot on sight.  Sound like a good idea for some other social omnivores?

Posted by: atowhee | February 17, 2017


Nora the Dog and I walked at Yamhill city sewer ponds today.  Only one snipe where there were three dozen on Sunday.  More water in the fields, Mallards on temporary pond there.  Other birds included one BC Chicakdee, two Flickers, three Ruddy Ducks.  Numerous were Cacklers, Canada Geese, Mallards, Lesser Scaup.

A mature ash tree had fallen over and blocked the path.  The tree was on the west side of the creek and fell away from the creek.  Presumably it had leaned too far that way because it had no roots to support it on the east side.  The ash already had its pendulous buds for spring.  Just a few feet away stood an equally old oak.  That tree is gnarled and even today was still dropping a few of its dried leaves from last summer. That ash and that oak have grown side-by-side for decades, wet years and dry, cold winters, sunny summers, as the ball fields nearby were first laid out, then busy, then abandoned.  What must that oak be feeling at the death of the neighboring ash?
I got home later to see in the Feb 16 “LRB” a review of the boom THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES: WHAT THEY FEEL, HOW THEY COMMUNICATE.   By Peter Wohlleben.ash-1ash-twoThe seeds that will never mature.ash-seeds3

In his book Wohlleben describes an ancient moss-covered beech stump.  That beech tree had been cut centuries before.  Poking around with his knife he finds the stump is still green beneath the bark, alive.  Checking previous research and the locale he comes to realize the other nearby beech trees are supplying the stump and its root system with sugar and moisture.  Who needs leaves if you’ve got friends with leaves?

The “LRB” review of this book is by Francis Gooding.  In one paragraph he writes, “The kind of consciousness that Wohlleben proposes is so different from ours as to be utterly alien: it is a diffuse, blind intelligence located in the sensitive, questing filaments of thousands of root-tips, or a networked language of chemical messages, fanning out through the forest floor via a ‘wood wide web’ of fungal mycelium.  It is a sensory alertness in every leaf.”  You can click here to read the full review which includes Frans de Waals’ book on animal smarts as well.

In German “wohl” means well, possibly or actually depending on the dialect.  “Leben” means to live.  To live well perhaps we need to better understand our fellow creatures, both mobile and rooted. Would not be holding my breath for the new federal regime to declare “love your tree day.”

Posted by: atowhee | February 15, 2017


“Throughout North America the junco, a slate-colored sparrow-sized  with a flashy white-sided tail, rules the urban jungle.”    —Welcome to Subirdia by John Marzluff

Not just sparrow-sized, the junco is a proud member of the American sparrow family. This family, Emberizidae, includes towhees, longspurs, Neotropical grassquits, Old World seedeaters and some Old World buntings. In Latin junco means Reed Bunting, an Old World bird with a sparrow’s beak and a black head.  Hyemalis refers to winter when this little bird flocks into towns and cities across North America.

In Ashland we sometimes have five dozen in our garden, here in more urbanized McMinnville we still over two dozen in winter.jnc-3Whenever I seer this hardy, doughty, successful little bird I remind myself that they breed on the ground…but do it so well they even breed in city parks.  Only once have I actually seen a Junco nest.  It was in a tuft of grass just outside a patch of forest at 4500′ elevation near Howard Prairie Lake in Jackson County, Oregon.  In years birding in San Francisco I never found a single nest in Golden Gate Park where the bird is a common breeder.

Fellow birder Pamela Johnston shares this haiku:
“In pouring rain
a Junco sings”

Posted by: atowhee | February 14, 2017


We have four suet feeders in our garden this winter.  And we have several birds that are suet afficionados.  In fact, we have feeder feeders that are nothing short of excellent experts.  There are the starlings, the Downy, the female flicker–long, pointed beaks, strong feet, dangling and hanging upside down–no problem.

Yet, even among the smaller birds two have become adept at feeding any manner necessary to get at that suet.  They are the Bewick’s Wren and one Yellow-rumped WARbler whom I’ve named War-war for his warlike

Pretty quiet at Wennerberg Park today though I did see an Anna’s Hummer sitting on a wire which is unusual.  They are most often on trees, bushes, and other natural perches.anh-upanh-wiredgoose-line820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  X
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  X
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  25
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8

Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 14, 2017.  6 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  16     fly over
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  30
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  2

Posted by: atowhee | February 14, 2017


Peter Thiemann, my friend and co-author of our book on Great Gray Owls, is in Yosemite…he is having a wild wildlife adventure in the cold and snow.  Here are three images from his iPhone:img_2802img_2871img_2939Top to bottom: sleeping wolves…bison grazing on hillside where snow is not deep…cow moose and her calf from last summer.

Posted by: atowhee | February 13, 2017


Some days you have to look for the beauty in nature, other days it looks back at you:beautyIs it the fine edging colors on the wing feathers?  Is it that tail arrowing out, announcing gender and species? Is it the flashy white tracing stripe up the side of the throat, emphasizing the longer, more slender neck than most ducks could even hope for? Is it the under-stated tweed effect on the sides of the chest?  Is it the overall effect of color and design?  Is it the green sheen that makes this Pintail’s head into a shining example? Finally, could it be the pale blue slash along the side of the beak, making Nike’s swoosh look childish by comparison?  Whatever it is, this duck can so quickly make human art and architecture look like clunky failures.  The steady look from that dark eye says it all.  “I got it, whatchew got?”

The sunshine said “Go birding.”  The dog said, “Let’s get going.” The binoculars didn’t speak, they just gave me that look with both eyes wide open.  The scope averred, “I’d like to stretch my legs.”  So who was I to argue with such urging?

Thus we found ourselves, on a perfect winter day, birding at Baskett Slough…braving road graders, the glare of sun on water, a blindingly blue sky, coots ambling down the roadside, the sound of hunters’ shotguns all around and an island crowded with shorebirds. That shorebird concentration had precipitated onto one small, slender island in Coville Dunlin were so skittish and frenzied it was hard to pick out the other shorebirds, but in this shot you can see at least two of the dowitchers with their dark fronts and a line through the eye, both are near water line in front. I believe that is a third dowitcher in the water with his back to us.  Those duck butts in front belong to two male Green-winged Teal.  The teal were so plentiful it was hard to get a shot without one or two teal-tush in the frame. They may have even out-numbered the coots!dow-infrnt

The pipits were in a short grass pasture along the north side of Smithfield Road.2pips3pips2Roadside Cackler grazing:cack-on-grndI once had neighbors who would have called this a “varmint.”  I prefer nutria or marshland terrorist.  But he didn’t come here intent on destruction. His ancestors were slaughtered for human clothing and profit.  His race was enslaved, and then set free to make his own way in a strange and cruel world.  So he did make his way… newtree-ahMS PINTAIL: Not the bold tail, but finely marked feathers.  A hint of that spiffy swoosh along the side of the beak. She, too, can give you that look with the dark, inscrutable eye.pinpair2Let sleeping ducks lie, while teal feed.  Call this photo “pin-teal.”pin-teal

BTW: There is a new bird checklist for the whole Willamette Valley Wildlife Refuge complex. Click here to link to that PDF.

Baskett Slough NWR, Polk, Oregon, US
Feb 13, 2017 11:05 AM – 11:50 AM.  Comments:     BRIGHT, CLEAR AND CALM
30 species

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  X     thousands
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)  9
American Wigeon (Anas americana)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  X
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)  X
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  X
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  X
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  X
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  1
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)  100
Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)  20
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)  5
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)  40
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  X
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  X
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  X
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  X     males singing

Many of the birds I saw today will be around until spring when I am teaching a birding class for Mc Minnville Park & Rec. Baskett Slough is one place we will visit. Click here for info on the class and its four field trips.

Posted by: atowhee | February 12, 2017


Feb. 12—Today we got one of those gentle respites from serious winter.  Clear, mild, sunny, windless. Fine day for us pagan birders. At the Yamhill city sewer ponds this morning the most abundant bird was not starling, nor Canada Goose, nor Shoveler (zero!) nor scaup…it was…Wilson’s Snipe.  The seasonal marsh and the nearby soggy fields were snipe-rich.  As dog and I walked around the marsh a couple dozen snipe took wing and most moved across the fence into the fields.  A group of seven circled and climbed and circled some more and then headed off east of Hwy 47 to some other marshy spot.  Most just lifted over the fence and landed far out into the fields.  Some already in the field moved away from the near fence and then set down.  I tried to follow some of the flying birds until they landed.  As they did each one vanished into the grass which was a few inches high.

In flight the snipe zig-zag and twist about invisible objects, a difficult flight to follow if you are a Peregrine moving at 70 MPH.  I have seen Peregrine dive after snipe, never seen one connect.  As snipe fly they gave out their alarm call, a nasally whistle.  National Geo says this call’s a two-syllable “sni-ape.” Brinkley’s field guide for the Wildlife Federation says the call’s an “unmusical tzehp.” That’s pronounced with a strong eastern European accent, no doubt. Here’s an image of several snipe up in the air:snip-aloftI am pointing my camera due west toward the Coastal Range.  Note in second image a snipe s suddenly visible at the horizon line.  Then in the final image more snipe enter from upper left hand corner. In that shot the clustered seven, heading to the right, is the group that circled 36o degrees, twice, then headed off east, directly opposite of where the camera was pointed.  All these other birds landed in the grassy field below where they are flying…but not in the newly planted hazelnut orchard,snip-aloft2snip-aloft3snip-aloft4This is the snipe marsh in Yamhill.  It gets mowed when dry in the late summer so there is not a lot of dense growth above eight inches tall, no cattails or willows.  Accidentally it is maintained as near-perfect snipe habitat, especially in this wet winter.snip-marsh

I got no close-up photos today but in spring the males call, winnow, display and perch in the open.  Here is one such bird.ma12-d_1533a-netThis is a snipe photographed on a Golden Gate Audubon Malheur trip in 2012 by Bob Mandell. Those eyes are placed near the top of the skull so when the beak is in the ground the bird can still see above and behind it, on the look out for Peregrine or Harrier.

It is still legal to hunt snipe in Oregon.  They are the only shorebird so honored.  Puts snipe into that special class with waterfowl, grouse, quail and crows.  A number of introduced game birds are also hunted like chukar, pheasant and turkey. So for this species “snipe hunt” is no joke and neither is some guy walking past their marsh with a big dog…

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 12, 2017 10:50 AM – 11:50 AM.  12 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  3     in the creek
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  13
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  6
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  35
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  7
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  25     males were singing from high perches


Posted by: atowhee | February 11, 2017


Are the U.S. Geological Survey Climate Science Centers doomed?

I ask as a one-time summer employee of the USGS.  The USGS gave me my first real job after high school.  The summer after my freshman year in college I worked as a rod-man for the field surveyor from the USGS.  We were in rural Minnesota, starting south in Madelia and ending up the summer in Red Lake Falls.  There the nearest city was Winnipeg.  August 12th it snowed on us.  Our truck was attacked by a badger because we’d parked over his sett.   The deer flies bit harder, faster and meaner than all the mosquitoes you could launch from whatever marsh you could find.  Breakfast at the diner was 90 cents, with bacon, toast (no brown bread), eggs and grapefruit juice.  I could drink that stuff in those days.

I was under age but the local used car man in Red Lake Falls sold me my first car, a beat-up, bluke-gray ’57 Chevy. Low-end model, not even a Bel-Air.  At high speeds (over 50) you had to hold onto the gear shift (it was an automatic) to keep it from sliding into neutral.  I spent a week’s salary on that old beater–$90. That was 1964. A hometown friend was working for the USGS over in North Dakota.  One weekend we drove to Winnipeg in that car to see a movie. Crossing the border meant nothing.  Those were the days…

Thus, I have a very warm spot in my heart for the USGS.  It had its Midwest map center in my hometown (that connection got me that job).  The man who ran that office lived just up the road from our farm on his own sixty acres.  The USGS gave me my first summer away from home.

The USGS should be revered by birders.  It afforded time and money for much of the original research on animals across the western U.S. after the Civil War.  Florence Merriam Bailey wrote the first field guide (1902) to Western US birds, and she did so after many summers camping with her USGS-employed husband who was doing rodent research in the West. She also wrote the first book about birding with binocs and the first full treatment of the birds of New Mexico.florencebailey

Anyway, you can click here for link to the climate centers’ website, which has not yet been deleted.

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